The COVID-19 pandemic is pushing open access forwards

By SalM on October 30, 2020 in COVID-19

This year’s Open Access Week is a very special occasion. 2020 has shown – for all the good and bad reasons during a global pandemic that continues to affect us all – the power of open access. But, while the unprecedented growth of open access papers and preprints has been a crisis mode reaction, it is now time to make open access a permanent feature of the research system.

Twenty years after the Budapest Open Access Initiative, we are at a crucial moment: 2021 has all it needs for open access to become the norm for researchers in Europe.

First and foremost, Horizon Europe will require immediate and irrevocable open access to publications resulting from research projects funded by the programme, alongside a set of other elements mainstreaming ‘open science’. According to the European Commission, costs for hybrid publishing will no longer be eligible and researchers will retain the rights to share their results.

In parallel, the Open Research Europe publishing platform is a prime example of a research funder supporting a publishing ecosystem that is innovative, equitable and open. The European University Association (EUA), as a supporter of sustainable and open scholarly publishing, welcomes these changes in Horizon Europe.

Of course, this does not mean that the work is over. Horizon Europe will have to step up its backing for universities managing this transition and enable them to support all the scientific communities so that they can reach this objective.

Furthermore, the long-awaited and, at times, hotly debated ‘Plan S’ will finally come into action on 1st January 2021. While the plan itself and its conditions have evolved – also due to constructive input from universities and other stakeholders – its core is as relevant as it was at its launch in September 2018.

Open licences, sustainable business models and copyright retention must be ensured. A welcome development has been the more strident work on rights retention to ensure Green Open Access and the growing attention to non-commercial publishing venues – Diamond Open Access – in the quest to create a publishing system that is less dependent on a few commercial publishers and more diverse, community-driven and scholar-led.

Plan S is a crucial piece in a transition to open access driven by stakeholders in the academic community, and we at EUA look forward to continuing our engagement with Coalition S in the coming year.

Career assessment reforms

Likewise, at the core of the transition to open science is a re-thinking of the ways in which we assess researchers and academic careers.

EUA has been at the forefront of discussions on career assessment reforms and will continue this work. Based on this, we, in a partnership with the Declaration on Research Assessment and the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition Europe, will soon release materials and case studies that will support and inspire universities to reform their internal assessment mechanisms and requirements.

Going global

Finally, we need to look beyond Europe. Science, scholarly publishing and the means of assessment are issues with global implications. There are understandable and legitimate concerns about Europe moving ahead without due consideration of what it means for others – an often-heard concern is pay-to-publish business models being hurdles for countries with lower incomes or disciplines which are not supported by external funding agencies.

This is why we need a diverse and equitable publishing landscape. EUA supports such a vision of an open and inclusive system for the UNESCO Recommendation on Open Science, which is scheduled to be adopted in late 2021. This UNESCO recommendation, which already appears very promising in its draft version, has the potential to enshrine a global commitment to sustainable open access – and will, it is hoped, make 2021 the year that open access and open science go global.


Responsible Research and Innovation & Digital Inclusiveness during Covid-19 Crisis

By SalM on October 16, 2020 in COVID-19, News

Responsible Research and Innovation & Digital Inclusiveness during Covid-19 Crisis in the Human Brain Project (HBP)

Covid-19 changes the lives of all of us: Institutions and other places are closed; it is not possible to see friends and family personally and keeping a distance is the topmost commandment. Therefore, most of us are working from home and digitalisation is on the way up in many aspects of life. The HBP has a long-lasting experience of interdisciplinary collaboration by virtually bridging distances because its involved partners are not only complex but also spatially remote. In these challenging times of the pandemic, the HBP’s Diversity and Equal Opportunities Committee together with the Ethics Rapporteur Programme has started “I-include”, an Initiative for Inclusive Digital Engagement to make sure that no one is left behind virtually and that diversity matters in digital collaborations. It offers recommendations based on the practical experiences of HBP members. Considering this new framework during the current situation is a way to ensure that our digitally distributed work becomes a valuable and successful experience corresponding to the standards of Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI). RRI is a dynamic, iterative process in which all stakeholders in research and innovation become mutually responsive and share responsibility for both the process and its outcomes. Even and particularly in difficult times.

I-include – Initiative for Inclusive Digital Engagement

The HBP, and each individual contributing to it has experience of interdisciplinary collaboration by virtually bridging distances. Departing from the framework of Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI), the HBP has dedicated itself to foster equal opportunities, and with a learning attitude, serve as a best practice example for projects characterised by complexity and spatial remoteness of involved partners. Embracing diversity, inclusiveness is especially relevant to make the nature of our distributed work a valuable, successful experience, in general, and especially in this Covid-19 crisis with most of us working from home. The following recommendations are based on the practical experience of HBP members.

1. Social and Family Life

Social and family life means taking care of each other, in a balanced way, with the means, hearts, and minds we can offer. For example, family and other social significative obligations vary depending on the changed living conditions. In times of crisis, women are often hit harder because existing gender inequalities are exacerbated.

The HBP recommends thus to

  • Keep in touch with your employees or team members, show interest and understanding for their private life domains. As long as team members work from their home offices: Don’t expect the same results, give more time, ensure additional feedback.
  • Share experiences and ideas, information that might be helpful like games or learning platforms for children, how to support family members or friends in need of help.

2. Stress and Anxiety

People react differently to a crisis, being confronted with bad news and statistics, being forced into different working modes and new forms of obligations, being cut off from well-established routines, colleagues and friends is stressful. How this stress can be processed depends not only on the personality, but also on the specific circumstances of life, which bring stability, or other factors of uncertainty, for example, the financial situation, personal health, or remoteness of friends and family members.

The HBP recommends thus to

  • Ask team members, how they are doing and what might help them. Make sure it is safe to speak up, for example, by revealing your concerns. Listen carefully and send messages of understanding. If adequate, offer virtual coaching.
  • Focus on “what needs to be done, and how to do it”: a working relationship must focus on work, and set a good framework enabling everyone to contribute to the best of their means.

3. Career Stage, Roles and Responsibilities

The impact a pandemic like Covid-19 can have on the professional situation depends, among others, on the educational background or scientific discipline and career stage of a person. While some can make progress by working from home, others might depend on lab work, contributions to conferences or a research stay abroad. Especially for early career stage scientists’ contracts might not be saved or at severe risk due to travel restrictions, no or restricted access to labs, and further resources crucially needed to progress.

The HBP recommends thus to

  • Set up individual meetings dedicated to career planning and to share in open dialogue experiences and thoughts, to learn how others have managed this situation and support each other. Use your networks to offer mentoring and sponsoring, or become an active mentor yourself.
  • Clarify with your university or organisations the different options of contracting under the given circumstances; provide as much security as possible. Ensure that letters of recommendation address special achievements under difficult conditions.

4. Team Spirit and Virtual Collaboration

Successful collaboration and team spirit often derive from joint activities in close proximity, the opportunity to get to know and understand each other both professionally and privately. Virtual environments lack the opportunity to dedicate the same amount of time and involve all senses, which is even more critical when cultural and professional differences come into play. Different cultures and personalities also lead to different ways of written conversation. Misunderstanding arises easily from written communication, especially when people are stressed and work on laptops and might overlook important information addressed in an email. Virtual meetings are better than emails and also better for the environment than meetings that involve at least several flights to get together. Still, they are more exhausting because movement in between meetings is missing, voices sound different, and it is unclear who looks at what on the monitor.

The HBP recommends thus to

  • Make sure there is enough time to get to know different work style preferences, explore and value talents and experiences, understand what everyone needs to get into top form in the virtual world. Build safety and offer a variety of different collaborative channels and ways to contribute. Check with everyone on a regular basis and get in touch with those members you might not have heard of for a while.
  • Be aware that emails might not arrive, end up in spam filters, the content might be overlooked or hard to interpret. Do not hesitate to ask twice if the message came, pick up your phone or favorite VC channel to clarify the details.
  • Make participants aware of the challenges of virtual meetings as well as the technical options of organising the meeting. Send documents beforehand, give enough time and opportunity to respond via different channels. Also, make use of chat rooms to raise questions and answer them in the correct order.
  • Keep meetings short and mindful and keep up in follow up meetings. Respect privacy and do not make it obligatory to have cameras turned on. Make everyone aware of the opportunity to show their names only, a preselected picture or a virtual background instead of their private environment.


Our research activities have received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 Framework Programme for Research and Innovation under the Specific Grant Agreement No. 785907 (Human Brain Project SGA2).


The authors would like to acknowledge the contribution of Peter Zeckert (Forschungszentrum Jülich, Germany); Alastair Thompson and Evan Hancock (École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, Switzerland), Josepine Fernow (Uppsala University, Centre for Research Ethics & Bioethics (CRB), Sweden), Julia Trattnig (Convelop, Austria), and Specific Grant Agreement No. 945539 (Human Brain Project SGA3) in the development of these recommendations.


Copyright remains with the authors. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

Under a Creative Commons license
open access

Guide Involving Communities in the COVID-19 Response

By SalM on October 8, 2020 in COVID-19

From how we continue to fight the pandemic, to what the new normal for our economy, environment and communities should look like, significant decisions need to be taken in the coming weeks and months with consequences that will be felt for years and decades.
This handbook is intended to support local authorities to consider how they can build back with their local communities, involving them in the Covid-19 response and recovery.

The handbook contains eight chapters, covering the following:

  • Chapter 2: Why involve people now – the rationale for involving local communities in the Covid response and recovery;
  • Chapter 3: Before you start – tips on making the case and securing institutional buy-in;
  • Chapter 4: Where to start – some principles for planning high quality public engagement;
  • Chapter 5: Helpful resources – a range of handy handbooks, guides and toolkits to help plan and deliver community engagement;
  • Chapter 6: Where it’s happening – examples and case studies engaging people in taking decisions and action around Covid;
  • Chapter 7: What it could look like – illustrative processes to provide some inspiration for how communities could be engaged on different issues;
  • Chapter 8: Further reading – links to interesting further reading on Covid, public participation and democracy

To read the full handbook prepared to you by Involve UK please click on the link below and download it

Building Back With – A guide to involving communities in the COVID-19 response and recovery for local government — Version 1_5

COVID-19 and Changes in Conduct and Share of Research

By SalM on October 4, 2020 in COVID-19

Our current research and social context – the coronavirus pandemic, economic upheaval, climate change, racial injustice – requires timely and reliable research results, shared equitably by, and with, all parts of the world.

The status quo for research communications

The mainstream system for research communications, which was built in the print age and has not evolved to meet the changing needs of the research community, is far from ideal and does not serve well the needs of research or society. The shortcomings are well known and include:

  • Long delays from submission to publication for articles and monographs
  • High costs for both to access publications through subscriptions, and to publish through article processing charges
  • Overlooked contributions with too much focus on the article or book as the final research product, rather than recognizing the full range of relevant contributions, such as data, metadata, preprints, and protocols
  • Lack of transparency in peer review and quality control mechanisms
  • Significant biases towards the interests of the global north and trendy research topics

These issues contribute to a sub-optimal communications milieu in which research efforts are hampered because investigators cannot access the full corpus of literature in their field, cannot text and data mine to extract new knowledge; and research findings are not available and cannot be readily adopted by other actors in society.

Despite widespread recognition of these problems, they have endured for many years, in large part because research communications has been predominantly outsourced to profit-driven commercial entities, whose missions do not align with those of the research community or the public at large.

How COVID19 has changed the landscape?

The COVID-19 pandemic, however, has demonstrated that with enough political will, these issues can be overcome.

The intensity and volume of research related to COVID-19 has been unprecedented and governments and funders around the world have been calling for rapid and open sharing of research outputs.

The response has been remarkable and has led to unparalleled scientific progress. Early studies on the availability of COVID-19 research papers show that, while not all articles are open access with appropriate reuse licenses, the vast majority are freely available. Lag times from article submission to publication for COVID-19 articles have been greatly accelerated compared to the norm. And, both preprint and data sharing activities have intensified significantly. The issue of quality assurance and public confidence in research outcomes is a critical one. While some concerns have been expressed about whether quality control of publications and data is being compromised because of the speed with which research outcomes are being shared, it also seems to be the case that widespread openness can lead to increased scientific scrutiny and more rapid identification of inaccurate research conclusions. This shows that quality assurance can be implemented in such an environment.

Research communications has been predominantly outsourced to profit-driven commercial entities, whose missions do not align with those of the research community or the public at large.

But will this new, radically open research communications paradigm result in permanent change?

Many subscription publishers have temporarily made their COVID-19 content openly available, or are providing special conditions for libraries to allow researchers to access relevant collections, demonstrating that there is a willingness to adapt when there is a crisis of this proportion. However, some have already started to move their content back behind paywalls, or have indicated that they will do so in the near future.

COVID-19 has provided us with a relevant and practical example of the benefits of open science. The current moment should act as a catalyst for transforming the current flawed system of research communications into a global knowledge commons; a commons that is more efficient, inclusive, and governed by the scholarly community; a commons with no barriers to access or to publish research.

The global knowledge commons and how to get there

Transforming the system does not mean starting from scratch. We already have many elements of the global knowledge commons in place. There are thousands of repositories around the world, mostly hosted by long-lived and trusted organizations such as universities and research institutions, that collect and provide access to a wide variety of research outputs. And COAR is developing an overlay model that will integrate peer review and other types of evaluation services into the distributed international repository and preprint network, which will soon be piloted by several organizations.

These repositories are part of a substantial and growing community of open infrastructures that are committed to fair and inclusive open access, open data and open science. They exist alongside other services such as open and community-based journals and hosting services like RedalycOpenEdition, and African Journals Online (along with many others around the world), national and regional indexing and discovery networks like OpenAIRE, and LA Referencia, as well as other open tools and services. Together, these community-based, open infrastructures, which cost a fraction of the funds spent on the large commercial publishers, form the roots of a thriving and sustainable scholarly communications ecosystem.

Let’s build on the lessons we’ve learned through the COVID-19 pandemic. Or, in the words of Robert-Jan Smits, former director general of research and innovation at the European Commission, “Let’s turn this abnormal situation, in which COVID-19-relevant papers and data are shared widely, into a normal situation”.

We must start now to shift our resources towards open, community-based infrastructures and services whose values align with those of research and society. Let us not go back to business as usual once the pandemic is over. The problems facing the world today are just too important.

This article was taken from the LSE Website and it was written and prepared by Kathleen Shearer, Eloy Rodrigues, Bianca Amaro, Wolfram Horstmann, William Nixon, Daisy Selematsela, Martha Whitehead and Kazu Yamaji. Follow the link below to the original source of the article

COVID-19 has profoundly changed the way we conduct and share research. Let’s not return to business as usual when the pandemic is over!

Could the coronavirus crisis lead to increased citizen empowerment?

By SalM on September 6, 2020 in COVID-19

The key to halting the spread of the virus is responsible behavior and citizen empowerment. But to achieve this, people must trust science, the government, and media. Could the crisis be an opportunity to rebuild this trust?

“As systems collapse, people rise” says the author of Theory U, Otto Scharmer, in his recent article, where he reflects on the changes brought about by the COVID 19 crisis. At the same time, the historian Yuval Noah Harari writes in his article about the world after coronavirus, “A self-motivated and well-informed population is usually far more powerful and effective than a policed, ignorant population”. These two articles complement each other: the first one talks about communities that have organized themselves from the bottom up, and the second one discusses how governments should encourage and guide the empowerment of citizens rather than using totalitarian surveillance methods.

As Yuval Noah Harari points out, the latter brings the risk of a dangerous shift from “over the skin” to “under the skin” surveillance. In the first case, government surveillance traces people’s movements and activities, but in the second case, this surveillance goes much deeper, tracing parameters of the state of the body (temperature, blood pressure and heart-rate), which can then provide a snapshot of people’s emotional reactions. Introduced to protect people from the spread of the pandemic, there is a risk that these methods will continue to be used after the crisis is over, to control citizens and for other nefarious purposes.

Harsh measures with punishments are less effective in fighting the spread of the virus than empowering citizens. This can be done by increasing their awareness and scientific understanding, and asking them to take care of themselves and others, particularly more vulnerable groups, such as the elderly. To achieve this, citizens need to trust science, public authorities and the media. Since this trust has been significantly damaged in recent years, governments should devote all their efforts to rebuilding it. As Yuval Noah Harari has noted, normally this process would take years, but we are not living in ordinary times.

The key is to build civic responsibility along with true citizen empowerment. Otto Scharmer underlines that collective action is a superpower that has the capacity to flatten the curve of COVID-19. While a response by public authorities is necessary, it is collective action that really changes the situation, supported by “a timely and proactive government response”. People have the power to flatten the curve by realizing that their behavior, such as social distancing or wearing a mask, “contributes to the flattening of the curve”. This is responsible behavior – when wearing the mask is not just about you, but about protecting the elderly lady that lives nearby.

Responsible behavior and empowered citizens could also lead to a more sustainable society. Top-down approaches are not enough to make this transition; what we need is collective action, with citizens demanding sustainable and responsible behavior from the companies they buy from, leading to qualitative changes in the way these companies design and produce new products. We can encourage the development of sustainable, socially just, people-centered solutions by listening to citizens’ needs and re-establishing trust between citizens and the governments and companies that work for them.

This article was taken from the Living Innovation website, written by Svetlana Ivanova

Additional sources:

The Recommendations on Science & COVID-19 RRING Virtual Workshop

By SalM on July 7, 2020 in COVID-19, RRING NEWS

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought attention to the need for science communications by public authorities. For this, the engagement of science communities to help public authorities fine-tune their messages and get the message right every time is critical. What mechanisms may help inform public authorities reliably about the latest in research while maintaining the autonomy of the researchers and quality research without undue pressure and unrealistic expectations? Global standards may help in this regard. The Recommendations on Science and Scientific Researchers were unanimously adopted by 195 countries (including India) in 2017. Each national government is required to produce a report about its own standards and systems of science in light of these Recommendations by March 31, 2021. In this workshop, co-convened by RRING project (EU funded Responsible Research & innovation Networked Globally), UNESCO, and PRIA (Participatory Research in Asia), participants from India will learn about the Recommendations and have an opportunity to review the same in light of the recent pandemic experiences. In addition, we can explore what mechanisms exist for engaging the government in the preparation of such a Report. In a second, additionally, we will also discuss the ongoing UNESCO consultation on standards for Open Science.

Organised by Participatory Research in Asia (PRIA) in collaboration with UNESCO
Date: 9th July 2020
Time: 16:00 p.m.-17:30 p.m. (IST)

About the Organiser

PRIA is a 38 years old civil society organization working for the issues of participation, democracy and governance. PRIA also jointly co-chairs the UNESCO Chair in Community Based Research and Social Responsibility in Higher Education Institutions. This Chair is co-directed by Dr. Budd L. Hall (University of Victoria, Canada) and Dr. Rajesh Tandon. PRIA is currently a partner to the Responsible Research and Innovation Networking Globally (RRING) Project which is EC funded and is trying to understand the manifestation of the Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI) framework globally.


  • 16:00 p.m.-16:10 p.m. Opening Comments – Dr. Rajesh Tandon (Founder-President, PRIA)
  • 16:10 p.m.-16:25 p.m. Presentation on The Recommendations on Science & Scientific Researchers – Mr. Juan Pablo Ramirez-Miranda (Programme Specialist & Chief of Section – Social & Human Sciences, UNESCO New Delhi)
  • 16:25 p.m.- 16:55 p.m. Panel Discussion: COVID-19 & the need for Open Science (10 minutes for each speaker) Discussants:
    • Dr. Anand Krishnan (Professor, Centre for Community Medicine, AIIMS)
    • Dr. Rashmi Rodrigues (Associate Professor, Dept. of Community Health, St. John’s Medical College, Bangalore)
    • Mr. Dinesh Sharma (Jawaharlal Nehru Fellow & Founding Managing Editor, India Science Wire)
  • 16:55 p.m. – 17:25 p.m. Q/A Session
  • 17:25 p.m. – 17:30 p.m. Closing comments – Dr. Rajesh Tandon

Let COVID-19 expand awareness of disability tech

By SalM on May 19, 2020 in COVID-19

The pandemic’s disruption shows how much academia could learn from the disability community.

Disabled people including myself have long campaigned for accommodations to help us live our lives. The COVID-19 pandemic shows that these are not as impractical as we have always been told. Supermarkets, restaurants and pharmacies (even outside cities) can deliver; remote working, medicine and education are possible for many; and social lives can be rewarding without requiring us to leave home.

All around me, I see academic colleagues adopting disability-led hacks and long-sought accommodations. I wish everyone had thought about these workarounds — and about disabled people at all — earlier. When lockdowns end, we must not forget these lessons, not least because the pandemic will disable people, and the impacts will be felt most by the most vulnerable parts of society.

Academia is paying for its ableism. At many universities, in-person research with human participants and in laboratories has been curtailed. If these projects had considered disabilities, they might be better off: disabled academics already plan in short increments, with built-in flexibility.

In 2014, I returned to my job as an assistant professor, newly multiply-disabled — a hard-of-hearing amputee battered by chemotherapy and more. I felt out of place. I could no longer access many spaces, including most of my colleagues’ offices, and I sought the camaraderie of other disabled faculty members, staff and students. My disabled comrades and I recognize the diversity of disabilities: congenital and acquired; ranging from cognitive to sensory, mobility and more; apparent and not. Many of us pursue research that emphasizes how disabled people are the best experts on the technologies and structures that meet our needs.

One of my projects examines accounts of disabled people’s lived experiences with technologies, and how they differ from those of the scientists and engineers behind the tech. I planned my work intending to recruit disabled students among my researchers. Most of the studies can be done remotely, even from bed, and on a funky, asynchronous timetable as needed. Last year, when I had lung surgery, my group shifted gears without worry. And because of its disability-led design, my team’s project is pandemic-proof.

Another project, to gauge the experiences of students in civil-engineering classes, was designed to include participants with a range of disabilities. So we obtained approval for flexibility in communication format: we conduct our interviews by text, e-mail, Zoom and other means. Because we planned for disabled people to lead and participate in the research, we’re well prepared for the current situation — or for any other.

Many disabled people are also adept at managing our energy, and forgiving ourselves for not always meeting conventional metrics of ‘productivity’. My non-disabled colleagues are now struggling to adjust, but my team appreciates that ‘clocks should bend to our bodies’, not the other way around. Some disabled people call this concept Crip Time, reclaiming a derogatory term in pride (much like ‘queer’ for many LGBT+ people).

The disability community creates and lobbies for technologies and infrastructure that work better for all. Deaf and disabled people fought hard for things such as captioning on television, which has since become ubiquitous in sports bars and airports and can now be appreciated by people streaming media while those they live with rest or work.

The bitter irony is that, at the moment when non-disabled — or not-yet-disabled — people are beginning to normalize these disability hacks and hard-won infrastructure, society’s disregard for disabled people is clear. We are dying of COVID-19 in greater numbers than are non-disabled people, in rehabilitation facilities, state institutions (including prisons), group homes and care homes.

Many accommodations demanded under COVID-19 were implemented within weeks, including the ability to work from home, to have flexible schedules, to get what we need without excessive and demeaning documentation, to share and celebrate creative adaptation, to work with the knowledge that all schedules can change. These are all things that disabled and chronically ill people have wanted for a very long time. I hope that when we’ve flattened the curve and saved as many people as possible, we don’t return to a world in which disabled people are ignored (especially when COVID-19 will probably produce more of us).

So start making changes that should have been standard all along. Plan creatively and accessibly to allow more work offsite, and to include people whose clocks aren’t steady. Welcome suggestions from disabled colleagues and students about how to make the environment work best for their neurotype and schedule. Be ready to take criticism: too often, work is set up as dictated by convention, rather than by calling on relevant experiences and possibility.

Make your teaching and scholarly materials multi-modal: produce formats that work for people with different physical conditions and ways of reading and communicating, sharing and contributing. Think about multiple ways to allow participation in your funding, reviewing, research and engagement. Let’s see an end to patronizing objectification and assumptions about what we want and need: include disabled people in boards, teams and studies, and learn from us. We have had to become masters of invention. The pandemic has made the value of that clearer than ever.

Author: Ashley Shew


Trust and COVID-19

By SalM on April 20, 2020 in COVID-19

Photo by Hello I’m Nik ? on Unsplash

Trust is central to the containment of the COVID-19 virus. Governments need their citizens to trust that their strategies are going to work, and really will benefit vulnerable people and society as a whole. Citizens need to believe that these strategies are trustworthy to commit to the actions required, which for many will come at great personal cost.

But our judgement on who and what we trust, and how that relates to our inclination to comply with the COVID guidance, is personal, complex and nuanced. Personal experience, cultural context, political affiliation, perceptions of risk and benefit and even genetics and body chemistry can all affect where we place our trust.

This seems daunting. But embracing this complexity with understanding and empathy and focusing on the things you can do something about, armed with this understanding, is the critical starting point. Here are some of the key factors which can help in the earning of trust and avoidance of distrust which relate to government lockdown strategies and communications styles in relation to the COVID-19 crisis.

The 10 ‘drivers’ of trust & distrust

Unusually, scholars seem to broadly agree on the qualities of individuals and institutions which invite trust and distrust — these are about the values and competencies displayed. They are familiar concepts. Their familiarity may mean we underestimate their importance. These are not abstract concepts or academic theories, but describe what fundamentally matters to us as human beings— psychologically and sociologically.

TIGTech — 10 Drivers of Trust

The trust drivers and COVID-19 responses:

Psychology shows we are more likely to forgive errors of competence than errors of values — the major causes of distrust are almost always based on a breach of these values drivers. And the earning of trust more likely to result from values alignment than competence alone. So, for reasons of space, I am going to focus on the values drivers here, particularly in relation to government communications styles and strategies.

1. Intent— a relentless focus on the public good

Your intent and motivation and how that relates to me and the public good is perhaps the critical driver of trust.

Getting the right balance of the public health and economic impacts of COVID-19, and particularly their effects on the vulnerable, is a near-impossible task. Only a dedicated, proactive and transparent focus on the public good is likely to deliver fair, workable solutions and the trust of citizens.

Actions by governments perceived as not in the public interest are significant drivers of distrust — for example, lack of timely response to the virus for ideological or political reasons; where political priorities trump public health or where financial concerns are prioritised over the welfare of workers or citizens. Donald Trump’s truly astonishing decision to withdraw funding from the WHO at the height of crisis, seems the ultimate demonstration of acting with self-interest and not in the public interest. His trust ratings are falling even amongst supporters, though lack of confidence on other trust drivers (honesty, openness, consistency, effectiveness) are also part of that judgement.

This is particularly true where these actions are at odds with the views of trusted groups, such as disaster response experts and scientists with relevant expertise. They are seen as independent, impartial with no axe to grind and focused on the public good and not political capital. The Edelman Trust Barometer COVID Special research report indicates that 85% of people across the world think ‘we need to hear more from scientists and less from politicians.

The UK government previously shared airtime with senior scientists, but has currently stepped back from this, in favour of ‘’talking head’ style briefings from ministers. Keeping messages simple to help citizens comply, is understood to be part of the rational for this, but trust does not ensue from the repetition of simple slogans. Furthermore, trust analysis shows people respond very differently to information from independent trusted sources, rather than those they trust least — which still, according to Edelman, are politicians.

Making the unavoidable trade-offs between public health and economic impacts is traumatising for all those concerned. The public interest is the compass to help guide actions and decision-making. Use self-reflection tools, foresight, modelling and listening and co-creating directly with the groups affected to assess positive and negative impacts for different groups in society, when designing responses.

Politicians may need to step back and let the more trusted sources — such as health experts, national and international health authorities and scientists take a little more of limelight.

2. Inclusion and respect — be human and involve citizens

We are more likely to trust governance when we can see we are respected, our views and values count and we have agency in shaping outcomes.

Perhaps the single most important finding of our Trust project is this need to respect and take seriously the views of others, (including, perhaps especially, those who’s opinions seem wrong or that we don’t agree with). This is particularly important in responding effectively to early warnings of problems — perhaps one of the most salutory lessons of COVID-19 is the difficulties some leaders have had in taking seriously the early warnings that the virus may be significant. (This is common to almost all disasters. More to come on trust and the psychology of ignoring early warnings in a TIGTech follow-on project)

A human, empathetic approach which demonstrates respect has been a quality shared by some of the most admired and successful leaders in this crisis. (Who in the main also happen to be women). Forbes explores and contrasts this approach with the less effective, macho strongarm tactics of leaders such as Trump, Bolsonaro, Obrador, Modi, Duterte, Orban, Putin, Netanyahu.

But respect comes in different forms — embracing the complexity of people’s starting points and considering different approaches for different groups and perspectives is one. A better and more empathetic understanding of human responses and motivations is another — some examples here from Nuffield Council on Bioethics member Melanie Challenger.

Though I am nervous of the way behavioural sciences may be relied upon beyond their capacity to predict in the crisis, I revert often to Nobel Prize-winning behavioural economist Daniel Kahneman suggestion: “Don’t try to persuade — understand the source of resistance and address that”.

The notion of citizens having agency in decision-making as a driver of both effectiveness and trust in outcomes is also important, but controversial. “The fundamental view of citizens is of them being not very bright, not very willing, not very able, helpful or productive,” says Professor Beth Noveck, director of TheGovLab at New York University. She starts from a pragmatic standpoint, proposing that citizens are a wasted resource that policymakers can engage to design effective governance. Others, such as the Nuffield Council on Bioethics argue that in designing their responses to the virus, governments have ‘a moral duty to involve those who are affected; to engage with the communities that they represent”.

The importance of this sense of agency is not lost on political leaders — those crafting the ‘Take Back Control’ slogan for the the UK’s Leave Brexit campaign knew that only too well. In his essay The Agency Equation , Jon Alexander of New Citizenship Project argues that large numbers of people are contributing to social movements and democratic innovations (particularly now) ‘precisely because they offer us genuine agency to shape the world we live in: because humans are creatures who need to feel agency.’

There has been an incredible flourishing of grass roots responses to the virus with people wanting to contribute, help each other and rise to the challenges, for example of production of much needed personal protection equipment, helping each other, virtual protests and information sharing.

Some are sponsored by governments, but most are not. This feels like the most important time of all for governments to be innovative and involve citizens, accessing knowledge and giving them agency, particularly in debating the ethical dilemmas, designing solutions and shaping outcomes which can be trusted.

This is a step to far for many. But as a start, perhaps more pragmatic engagement may be attempted — such as co-creating better compliance communications with citizens. Gaining a better understanding of the different rationales we give ourselves for non-compliance and what works and doesn’t for different social groups will be very useful. So why not get citizen’s first-hand knowledge in the mix?

Listening to and respecting the views and values of citizens is an important driver of trust. Clear, open, honest and respectful communications are the starting point.

‘Hackathons’ to find IT solutions for the crisis are blossoming in almost every country— these could be mirrored in bringing citizens together to consider solutions to design containment strategies, explore the moral trade-offs and ethical dilemmas — particularly as lockdowns are gradually lifted.

The UK’s RSA (Royal Society of Arts — I am a fellow) has suggested a Citizen’s Convention for the Transition’. — this could also include on-line deliberative platforms to complement it, such as the excellent vTaiwan initiative, and also consider the contribution of younger and older and medically vulnerable people specifically perhaps?

Help with communications may be a great step off point. For example, in straw poll of my son’s teenage friends, I asked what would have made them take the guidance more seriously and earlier. The answer: funky infographics and statistics they could share on social media on what will happen if they don’t stay home. Our government’s ‘man from the ministry’ approach on mainstream TV (which they don’t watch) is less effective with those who’s respect for authority is limited!

This, from New Zealand was the one he and I thought most effective — we were surprised there were so few around.

More funky infographics on the potential impact of staying home may aid compliance

3. Openness — practice ‘radical transparency’

A key driver of distrust is the belief (and often the reality) that institutions are secretive, aloof and the decision-making processes opaque.

Openness and transparency are essential drivers of trust in a fast-moving crisis, as South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha explained about their approach — currently the most successful of any country:

‘The key to our success has been absolute transparency with the public — sharing every detail of how this virus is evolving, how it is spreading and what the government is doing about it, warts and all.

Total openness has also been a feature of the Singapore Government’s approach. Particularly interesting is its use of Collective Intelligence and technology. A Covid-19 Dashboard “allows Singapore residents to see every known infection case, the street where the person lives and works, which hospital they got admitted to, the average recovery time and the network connections between infections. Despite concerns about potential privacy infringements, the Singapore government has taken the approach that openness about infections is the best way to help people make decisions and manage anxiety about what is happening.”

Conversely, an increasing lack of transparency is the stimulus for a steep decline in trust in the UK government approach, drawing criticism from many quarters.

The UK’s Financial Times joins many others, including scientists, NGOs and other mainstream media in questioning the government’s approach and calling for greater transparencyt“The public can understand more than slogans, and accepts that errors will occur. It deserves clear explanations of failures, and how they will be remedied. Obfuscation will, over time, sap approval.”

Leaders feel they need to look like they are in charge and often believe that opening up about what is not working will make them look weak and not in control. Research says otherwise. Leaders who open up and make themselves accountable for their actions are more likely to earn the trust of others.

But it is genuinely challenging, nerve-wracking and appears risky to be very open, particularly in situations like this in which citizens are looking to governments for consistent leadership and competence. But confident, trusted leaders say when they are uncertain, or don’t have answers. They don’t fudge, hedge or fake certainty. But then they do go back and get answers and rectify problems — communications is only part of the solution!

4. Honesty — Be truthful, sincere and own up to mistakes

Honesty and integrity (lack of corruption) are considered by the OECD in their Trust and Public Policy report to perhaps be the most important driver of trust and distrust in public institutions globally.

Inspirational leaders of such institutions are authentic, they listen and respond honestly. They don’t lean on convoluted official language for their authority and don’t hide mistakes or concerns. Trust in the honest, human, straight-talking approach of German chancellor Angela Merkel is cited as a significant reason why Germans are more assiduous in obeying lockdown instructions (and even, potentially, a part of why their death toll is lower.) New Zealand’s Jacinda Arden, New York’s Andrew Cuomo, Denmark’s Mette Frederickson and the Netherlands Mark Rutte have all been very honest, direct and human in their communications and are widely respected, and trusted, specifically because of it.

International research into citizens’ beliefs in their government’s response to COVID-19 ranks countries on various factors, including ‘How untruthful to do you think your country’s government has been about the Coronavirus outbreak’. Some of the results are surprising — and somehow not — notably, the US ranking alongside Russia and Venezuela as perceived as the most untruthful. Again, too early to correlate these findings against the effectiveness of the strategy or compliance statistics, but fascinating nonetheless to see the US strategy (which seems to breach most trust drivers) to be seen by it’s citizens to be so noticeably untruthful.

In times of extreme uncertainty such as this, mistakes will happen and people understand this. But time and again trust is lost and problems arise, not from a mistake, but from the cover up, or contorted attempts to divert attention or rationalise it as something else.

Be straight, authentic and honest. Don’t be evasive or conceal the true state of affairs. Share why there is a problem and what you are doing about rectifying the problem and be open about the potential negative effects. Then do something about it!

OECD Trust metrics have been used by many institutions, such as the UK’s Food Standards Agency. They have demonstrated over time that trust in institutions can even increase despite significant problems if the response is honest, open and timely, with explanations about what went wrong and how the problem will be rectified.

5. Fairness — acknowledge and respond

Unfairness is one of the most powerful drivers of distrust. ‘It’s not fair’ we wail, even as small children and feel its lack keenly. But when a process or outcome is seen as fair, it helps earns our trust, even when we personally may not benefit from the result.

The COVID-19 virus and the impacts of the lockdown will affect some people dramatically more than others. The poorest, the vulnerable, the most marginalised, those without an effective healthcare system or a financial safety net will suffer most. It will be unfair, sometimes catastrophically so, for many. Mitigating this unfairness must be openly part of the prioritisation of resources and responses.

How governments, both individually and collectively understand, acknowledge and proactively respond to the unevenly distributed and unfair impacts brought on by the crisis, will be the most important factor in how history judges them.

Fairness, particularly towards the least fortunate, must be central to the design of containment strategies, approaches to healthcare and economic support packages. Individually and collectively, we’ve not done too well so far. Only time will tell if we have the will and the skill to turn this around.

The important of trust is mentioned often by leaders and the earning of trust needs to be at the heart of Covid-19 responses. But the response to ‘how can we get them to trust us’, focuses on communications. The 10 trust drivers show that whilst this is an important component, behaviour is the key.

 explained trust expert Baroness Onora O’Neill. 


Hilary is director of not-for-profit SocietyInside and co-director of an initiative TIGTech, which seeks to understand how the governance of technology can better earn trust — This article may not represent the views of other team members or the TIGTech Advisory Board.